“Addictions” and Essential Oils: Introduction and How Essential Oils Can Support Healthier Habits

According to Psychology Today:

Addiction is a condition that results when a person ingests a substance (e.g., alcohol, cocaine, nicotine) or engages in an activity (e.g., gambling, sex, shopping) that can be pleasurable but the continuation of which becomes compulsive and interferes with ordinary responsibilities and concerns, such as work, relationships, or health. People who have developed an addiction may not be aware that their behavior is out of control and causing problems for themselves and others.

Addictions can be devastating to the sufferer as well as their loved ones. These maladaptive physical or emotional dependencies are complex and the result of an interaction of several or many components that have been linked to biochemical, physical, psychological, and functional imbalances in the brain and body. Previously, I wrote about some of these various factors in relationship to brain and mood disorders.

As with any condition in the body, addiction can have different contributors yet manifest in similar maladjusted behavioral responses. Unfortunately, current approaches in psychiatry, as well as conventional medicine, frequently base treatment solely on the symptoms and/or diagnosis. Ignoring individualized causes and a person’s unique biochemistry can lead to suboptimal treatment and/or dangerous side effects.

For example, Dr. Amen, an esteemed psychiatrist and researcher, categorizes addictions into six types of brain patterns and resultant behavior. Through his experience with thousands of brain scans, he has found that analyzing brain function is important for determining successful treatment, beyond a person’s diagnostic label. For instance, Dr. Amen has discovered that compulsive addicts tend to have increased activity in the anterior cingulate gyrus and low levels of serotonin; whereas, anxious addicts are more likely to have low GABA and over activity in the limbic region on the brain.

Dr. Amen’s approach shows how prescribing an intervention based on generalized symptoms alone could result in further brain disturbances. The Amen clinics allow for individualizing care, rather than depending on a one-size-fits-all medication or protocol.  Along with my functional and naturopathic modalities, I also incorporate Dr. Amen’s brain checklist in my practice. I find it very helpful as a rough estimate of what area in the brain may need attention. (In Part III, I will discuss more about my methods and the importance of individualizing mood support protocols.)

Therefore, current theories of drug and physical addictions that center solely around pharmacological management of manipulating various neurotransmitters and “reward system responses” are lacking. The most effective treatment is multi-dimensional and social and therapeutic interactions also need to be considered. According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse:

In addition to stopping drug abuse, the goal of treatment is to return people to productive functioning in the family, workplace, and community. According to research that tracks individuals in treatment over extended periods, most people who get into and remain in treatment stop using drugs, decrease their criminal activity, and improve their occupational, social, and psychological functioning. For example, methadone treatment has been shown to increase participation in behavioral therapy and decrease both drug use and criminal behavior. However, individual treatment outcomes depend on the extent and nature of the patient’s problems, the appropriateness of treatment and related services used to address those problems, and the quality of interaction between the patient and his or her treatment providers.







How Essential Oils May Help with Healthier Response Patterns to Life

Along with my naturopathic and functional medicine “toolkit,” I have always incorporated essential oils for integrative wellness support due to their versatility and powerful results. There are four main concepts that demonstrate why essential oils may be helpful on this topic of changing unwanted patterns. I have listed them below:

1. Holism

Essential oils are multi-dimensional. They have a biochemical, physiological, and psychological effect, making them a truly holistic modality. Studies have shown that these plant secondary metabolites can support the brain, balance emotions, and calm the body. In fact, I wrote a two-part series on Natural Path, that you can access here. It describes these concepts in more detail.

By addressing more than one domain, essential oils can (1) aid the sufferer to overcome the fear and motivational blocks of changing unwanted patterns as they (2) assist in balancing the physiology that can contribute to an imbalance in brain biochemistry.


2. The power of smell for addressing the discomfort of change

In a two-part article in Townsend Letter, I described how essential oils can help modulate physical discomfort. First, I provided evidence that the sense of smell has physiological and emotional connections. Following this, I demonstrated that olfaction can have additive effects to the constituents (secondary metabolites) found in essential oils.

This means that essential oils could be very helpful when dealing with the discomfort of cravings and withdrawal.  This includes “food addiction,” which is controversial, but may have similar components to chemical and alcohol dependencies. (You can learn how essential oils modulate food cravings here.)


3. Odors’ whole-body effects… more than what is “under your nose”

I discussed previously how odorants interact with more than olfactory receptors in our nasal cavity; rather, these odor receptors are spread all throughout the body:

In a 2014 article, it was noted that odor receptors where found throughout the body, not just the nose. The article discusses how odor receptors have been found in the skin (think topical application of essential oils), testes, prostate, muscles, lungs, and more. Though most studies are in vitro and in vivo, it is has raised the possibility of how odors have more effect than through their aroma. In fact, the article states:

Olfactory receptors are the largest subset of G protein-coupled receptors, a family of proteins, found on the surface of cells, that allow the cells to sense what is going on around them. These receptors are a common target for drugs — 40 percent of all prescription drugs reach cells via GPCRs — and that argues well for the potential of what might be called scent-based medicine.

Can you see the applications here?


4. Creating a “positive addiction”

You may be interested to know that some people replace negative addictions with positive ones. This makes you wonder, can you be addicted to essential oils?

In fact, it has been reported to occur!

Click here to review a 21-item checklist on this new “health addiction to essential oils.”


Are you an oils addict like me? ?


In Part II, I will discuss the science and highlight some studies on the use of essential oils for dealing with addiction. In the meantime, I hope you keep oiling your way to a better body and brain!


Disclaimer: This information is applicable ONLY for therapeutic quality essential oils. This information DOES NOT apply to essential oils that have not been tested for purity and standardized constituents. There is no quality control in the United States, and oils labeled as “100% pure” need only to contain 5% of the actual oil. The rest of the bottle can be filled with fillers and sometimes toxic ingredients that can irritate the skin. The studies are not based solely on a specific brand of an essential oil, unless stated. Please read the full study for more information. (Affiliation link.)

This material is for information purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, treat, or prescribe for any illness. You should check with your doctor regarding implementing any new strategies into your wellness regime. Proper medical management of emergency situations in mental disease should always be implemented first. These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA.